How to build trust in digital trade

Digital trade has become part of life for businesses and consumers, but at the same time there are aspects of it where trust can be an issue, such as how our private data is used. David Cuckow, Associate Director, Digital at BSI, makes the case for using standards to build greater trust in the digital world and put our minds at ease.

The impact of the digital world on our lives has been profound. Alongside acknowledgement of the incredible new ways it has given us of communicating and doing business there is sometimes unease about how it may affect our lives in ways we don’t quite understand.

As digital exploded in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, regulations struggled to keep pace. It is now better understood that digital technologies are borderless and the way they develop is very difficult for individual governments to control. In contrast to products, digital technology applied to services can be more complex due to their intangible nature.

It is against this backdrop that David Cuckow, Associate Director, Digital at BSI believes there is a critical role for standardization to help build a consensus on ‘what good looks like’ in the digital world, increasing trust and benefitting ethical businesses and consumers alike.

“It’s very hard to predict developments in the digital world so it’s really important that good practice, represented by standards, is on the table at the beginning of the decision-making process to ensure it is part and parcel of a systematic approach to development,” said David. “This is as true in the context of trade and trade negotiations as in any other.”

The benefits of digitalization in moving products and services across borders efficiently are enormous. In the areas of food and agricultural products digital technology can be used to check provenance and help ensure compliance with stringent regulations. Distributed ledger and cloud technology can also be used to remove technical barriers to trade and support low friction trade. Standards can support development in all these areas to improve trade and protect consumers.

“These are complex and challenging areas that governments have to tackle to protect the rights of citizens and build trust in the marketplace,” said David. He identifies three potential approaches to regulating this area, each likely to produce different results.

“The first is what has been called the ‘Darwinian’ approach, where the market evolves without shared best practice, in which the biggest and the strongest operators in the market drive the standards. This can stifle innovation and does not necessarily protect the interest of consumers.

An acknowledgement of the potential of standards was evident at the G7 summit in Cornwall this summer with a Ministerial Declaration from the G7 (the UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the US and European Union) expressing a commitment to work together across the digital landscape in areas such as internet safety, the free flow of data and digital technical standards.

A framework for G7 collaboration on digital technical standards spoke of cooperation “… to support industry-led, inclusive multi-stakeholder approaches for the development of digital technical standards in line with our core values.

“There was an understanding that countries can come together to agree baseline principles and use these to inform policy and international trade and digital trade. The existing international standards system provides the perfect platform to do that,” said David.

He also sees that standards can be beneficial to big tech companies and SMEs alike. “There is an element of self-regulation, where standards can augment and complement existing laws and rules. Shared good practice also facilitates greater collaboration and can instil greater confidence in B2B buyers and consumers”.

“People want to see big tech following an ethical way of doing business. At the same time, big business is taking an increasingly enlightened approach, taking greater account of things like transparency, their social impact and the environment. The more standards can enable this evolution the better for everybody,” said David.

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